June 2012 / Tammuz 5772
Jewish Agency young emissary Gal Salman, right, spending time with preschoolers in Ridgefield, CT (courtesy: Jewish Ledger)
The 35,000 marchers in the recent Celebrate Israel parade had started to disperse. But a group of 18-year-olds from Israel’s Afula/Gilboa region, who marched up New York’s 5th Avenue, alongside The Jewish Agency’s float, were not finished. The 20 or so young Israelis found a side street and began to dance the Hora as one of the group members sang Am Yisrael Chai into a megaphone.
It was like a Bar Mitzvah. Actually, it was a Bar Mitzvah. Over the course of 13 years, the Southern New England Consortium - 12 federations from Connecticut and Massachusetts who have joined in a relationship with Afula/Gilboa through The Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2Gether initiative - has hosted nearly 200 “gap-year” shlichim (emissaries) who postpone IDF service for a year to energize North American Jewish communities with their passion for Israel and the global Jewish family.
Known by Israelis as Shin-shinim, these young emissaries can be found in communities throughout the Diaspora, usually where there is a relationship through Partnership 2Gether, which pairs towns and regions in Israel with Jewish communities in the Diaspora as a platform for deepening personal connections. This includes youth exchanges, school twinning, professional forums and economic development projects.
“The (Shin-shin) project is our flagship initiative or ‘living bridge,’” said Sharon Reisman Conway, director of the SNEC Young Emissary program. Conway added that planning exciting and educational activities is essential to the young emissary’s success, but the legacy he or she leaves is in the personal relationships that develop and his or her ability to unite and inspire.
“They are unambivalently Jewish and are proud to be Israeli,” Conway said. “They are great role models for everybody they work with, from nursery school to the elderly. They also work with every Jewish denomination, bridging political and religious differences and everybody together with their love for Israel.”
Eighteen-year-old Gal Salman, who will soon be joining an IDF intelligence unit, spent this past year in Westport, CT. Immediately after arriving she decided to try to connect with the kids, in the back corner of every Hebrew school class, who don’t want to be there.
“I decided I wanted to work with those kids because Hebrew school is such a big part of their Jewish identity,” said Salman, who celebrated her Bat Mitzvah during her time in Westport. “Now they are like my younger brothers. I feel like it is a lifelong relationship.
“We do activities about Israeli culture, music, food, important people in Israel and places in Israel, but the most important thing is the personal connection. That is what really helps to make them realize that Israel is their country too.”